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Haitians Growing Bold as They Revel in New Sense of Freedom

February 13, 1986|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Like a convict released after years in prison, Haiti is reveling in its newly acquired liberty.

Freedom's unfamiliar ways have caught on quickly here since the Duvalier dictatorship fell last Friday.

Every day, knots of people gather in front of the National Palace on a street that was off-limits to the public for two decades. By being there, they symbolically exercise long-denied rights.

They talk about the government to each other and to a friendly soldier standing behind the green wrought-iron fence. They gaze at the white, three-domed palace that served as the Duvalier family's headquarters for nearly three decades.

President Flees

President Jean-Claude Duvalier, 34, fled the country Friday after a long wave of anti-government protests. A week before his departure, he had declared that he was in power, as "firm as a monkey's tail."

On Wednesday, a woman picked a twig from an evergreen tree in front of the National Palace and began tearing it apart.

"This is the firm monkey's tail of Duvalier," she said with a laugh.

In a nearby plaza, a crowd milled around a statue dedicated to the slave revolt that gave Haiti its independence from France in 1804.

A New Liberalism

"We come here because we are happy that the criminals have left," said Jesnur Paul, 42. Under Duvalier, few would have dared to openly call government officials criminals.

Other people gathered several blocks away at a white wall enclosing the city's main cemetery. The wall is covered with fresh political graffiti.

A woman was reading aloud while others listened.

"We want Jean-Claude to be tried before a tribunal," said one message scrawled in red.

"It is necessary to lower food prices and raise salaries," said another.

Protests Continue

Some graffiti protested the inclusion of officials from the Duvalier regime in the new, military-led government:

"No Duvalierists as public officials."

"Remove all Duvalierists."

"No Duvalierists in the next presidential elections."

At the Ministry of Agriculture outside town, employees staged a strike Wednesday to protest the appointment of their new minister, Montaigu Cantave.

Like many other new ministers, and also members of the government council, Cantave had previously served in high government positions under Duvalier.

Vows to Keep Striking

"We are going to keep striking until he is gone," said one ministry employee. Strikes were prohibited under Duvalier.,

Many workers stood talking in the halls of the two-story, yellow ministry or sat idly at their desks. Cantave, at his desk for the first day, said, "The majority of the workers are returning to work."

"Well, that's not true," said the receptionist downstairs. She said most employees were in the building but refusing to work.

No Curbs on News

Over at least five Haitian radio stations, uncensored political news filled the airwaves. Under Duvalier, stations risked being closed if they broadcast news not approved by the government.

An official at Radio Soleil, a Catholic Church station that was shut down during Duvalier's final week in power, said one of the main issues being aired by radio stations is the presence of "Duvalierists" in the new government.

"The people want the Duvalierists out," said the radio official. "That is the general cry throughout the country."

Radio news also has focused on politicians who are getting warmed up for presidential elections. The new government council has said elections are planned, but no date had been set.,

One Month of Grace

Sylvio Claude, one of the presidential hopefuls, said Wednesday that he was giving the new government council one month to form a new government with "opposition sectors." Otherwise, Claude said, "People will take the same measures they took against Jean-Claude Duvalier."

In the past, Claude and other politicians have been arrested for milder statements.

Outside Radio Soleil, a group of young men waited patiently to talk to someone about broadcasting their denunciation of a man who they said had killed several people in their neighborhood during the Duvalier years.

They said the man was a member of Duvalier's once-feared political militia, known as the Tontons Macoutes, or bogeymen.

"We want him to leave, to be exiled," said Aristide Bernadel, 25.

Bogeymen Beaten

Residents of many neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, free of old fears, have captured and beaten dozens of Tontons Macoutes. The new government has disarmed and detained many of the militiamen, and others have gone into hiding.

Col. Prosper Avril, adviser to the five-member government council, said this week that the detained Tontons Macoutes were held in "protective custody."

"We had a lot of them but they go, one by one," Avril said. "They are going into civilian life."

Unless they are charged with a crime, he said, the government will not deprive them of their freedom.

Youths Gather for Rally

On Wednesday afternoon, thousands of youths exercised their new freedom by attending an open-air rally to celebrate the downfall of Duvalier.

It was a rally that would not have been permitted before last Friday. Mimeographed copies of a political manifesto circulated in the crowd.

"Victory is a lesson for all of us to show that dictatorship cannot return and commit the same crimes against the people," said one part of the manifesto.

"This is the debut of democracy," said Patrick Jerome, 20, in the middle of the crowd. "We are very free. We can say whatever we want."

It was not that way two weeks ago when Jerome participated in a small anti-Duvalier protest downtown.

"The Tontons Macoutes opened fire on us and arrested several people," he said.

Haiti's new leader is called "a man of character." Page 16.

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